Standon’s Calling for another year…

January 31, 2013

I am pleased to hear that the festival “Standon Calling” was reissued with its licence at the start of the week, for this year’s event by East Herts Council. According to news sources the licence was reissued subject to certain criteria, which relate to security and safety, being upheld. Of course when events of this nature take place, due consideration must be given to such aspects and I am glad to hear that the concerns of the Council have now been fully answered in these two respects. If events like this are to be fixtures, the local community has to be satisfied that these issues are addressed.
The Festival has been a live music event since 2004 and it provides a platform for an eclectic mix of musicians spread between a number of different stages. In addition to the usual features associated with a festival, Standon Calling has lots of other exciting highlights too, including the use of a swimming pool and a dedicated children’s area; I note all children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult over 21.

There is much local support for the event and I think it provides an excellent forum for musicians to perform in relaxed and friendly surroundings, visitors to enjoy themselves and for the local economy to thrive as well. I hope this year’s event is very successful.

More about the Festival can be found here: http://www.standon-calling.com/

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Mali

January 31, 2013

Although there is public concern not to see Britain dragged into a long African operation, the UK Government has promised strictly limited assistance to transport French troops out to Mali and this week to offer instructors for Malian troops. The French are aiming to stop Islamic militants using this large area as a safe place to base and train their supporters and stopping that is in our interests too. Their request for UK support for their troops is not unusual and the French do help us. I understand that the Germans have also given transport. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was impressive in explaining to the House of Commons that there is no intention of any greater military commitment by the British other than that which has already been announced. I am sure many will welcome this reassurance.


Syria

January 22, 2013

War Over? Use of chemical weapons on Syrian people?

President Obama concentrated on the domestic agenda in his Inauguration Speech and declared the War in Afghanistan to be almost over, but reports from Syria remind us of the foreign policy challenges.

For some time worrying reports about the Syrian regime’s treatment of its people have emerged in the news but foreign powers have been unwilling to intervene. This week news emerged which suggested that Syrian authorities could in fact be resorting to some form of chemical suppression and has raised concerns significantly. The White House has since attempted to play down the leaked report, but the report’s emergence nonetheless must stir detailed investigation. Of course given the lengthy nature of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the West is disinclined to engage in another potentially long and costly military engagement, but such reports of chemical suppression in Syria will raise questions for the USA?


Business doing better in our region…

January 11, 2013

I was pleased to see according to the FSB’s “Small Voice of Business” for this quarter, that business confidence in our region is increasing. The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement cancelled the 3p increase in fuel duty due to start this January, cut corporation tax by 1% to 2014/2015, increased the annual investment allowance to £250,000 and referred to the creation of a Business Bank intended to assist certain businesses financially. Perhaps we are seeing early signs of its effect.

The British Chambers Quarterly Economic Report refers to resilience by British business and a confidence that the outlook will improve. I am glad that both the manufacturing and services sector have shown signs of recovery and the report’s statement that “the marked increase in confidence in Q4, in both sectors, reinforces our (the British Chambers’) view that the economy will recover slowly in 2013” is extremely heartening. This is substantiated by the British Chambers’ assertion that GDP figures for the first quarter of 2012 were in fact better than those figures published by the ONS for the same period. The Report recommends the same strategy as that pursued by the Government to generate economic growth. It suggests a “firm adherence to cutting the fiscal deficit, with effective policies aimed at enabling the private sector to drive recovery and create jobs.” I hope this strategy is effective in creating growth soon.

The Reports are at:

[1] http://www.fsb.org.uk/frontpage/assets/q4%20vosb%20index.pdf
[2]http://www.britishchambers.org.uk/assets/downloads/QES/QES%20Q4%202012%20Summary.pdf


The Coalition’s Mid-Term Review

January 10, 2013

I think it was an excellent idea for David Cameron and Nick Clegg to conduct a joint press conference on Monday outlining their vision for the coalition going forward. We are half way through this Coalition’s term and it is important that we take stock of what the Government has achieved over the last three years and what it seeks to do in the two years ahead. We know that the economic climate was very unstable when the Coalition came to office but the document released by the Cabinet Office as part of this Mid Term Review shows the UK deficit has already been cut by a quarter. This is very good news. Further, the Government has sought to regulate those financial institutions which contributed to the economy’s weakening whilst tackling areas such as climate change, the UK’s energy and transport infrastructure and also its work and pensions. Described in the Mid Term Review as a “radical agenda of social renewal,” the Government is certainly hoping to achieve changes in areas that need it most, within tight economic constraints.

The Review highlights the aim of a £10,000 personal income tax allowance (almost achieved already), the freeze on council tax, assistance with energy bills and the cutting of fuel duty. Importantly the NHS has been protected from spending cuts and measures have been introduced so that the richest contribute the most in taxation towards reducing the deficit.

Going forward the Government intends to supplement child care costs for working families, ensure more houses are built for those that require them and ensure long term investment in the transport infrastructure. For the future, measures will improve the state pension and help with costs for those in long term care.

Some were critical of the way in which David Cameron and Nick Clegg chose to give their press conference in the rose garden at Number 10 in 2010 but you can certainly not fault the coalition for trying its utmost to tackle those difficult decisions which need urgent attention. As John Cridland, director general of the Confederation for British Industry, said: “The coalition deserves high marks for its commitment to tackle the deficit and its plan for growth.” I believe that this Mid-Term Review is a good demonstration of this continued determination.

You can read the Mid-Term Review at:
[1] http://midtermreview.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/


Camra’s Lobby of Parliament in December…

January 10, 2013

Just before Christmas I had the pleasure of entertaining 2 constituents at Westminster. They were taking part in a lobby organised by CAMRA and suggested that we might talk over a pint of ale in the Strangers’ Bar. My visitors were pleasantly surprised to find that beer subsidies at the House of Commons are a thing of the past and that I paid the normal price for their drinks. I thought of them yesterday when Vince Cable announced that he will be introducing a statutory Code and an independent Adjudicator governing the relationship between pub companies and their licensees. This will tackle the problems of unfair practices, lack of transparency and a focus on short-termism at the expense of the long-term sustainability of tied pubs. This is great relevance in North East Hertfordshire where village pubs are the focus of the community. A consultation on the scope of the Code will begin shortly and I will be encouraging local CAMRA members and others to make their points to the Minister.